Is a full season of wins more important than being on a roll? The Atlanta Falcons finished the season with the best record in the NFC at 13-3, but history tells us that going into a game with six consecutive wins, like the Seattle Seahawks are, is a lot more important more often than not.
The problems for the Falcons isn’t the current season, but the disappointments of playoffs past are hard to overcome. They aren’t just about Mike Smith and Matt Ryan – John Abraham, Michael Turner and Roddy White, all pro bowlers, are also part of this losing history that needs to end once and for all after leading the NFL with their record from the first moment of the season, being the last team to lose a game.
One of the big battles is going to be Matt Ryan (4719 yards, 32-14 TD-INT, 68.6% completions) playing his strengths, the screen pass. Ryan threw more screen passes than anyone but Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, but the Seahawks defense, 6th this season against the pass, as allowed only 3.0 yards per attempt and a 70 completion percentage against screens this season, both second best in the NFL.
A big improvement for the Falcons and especially Ryan is being clutch. The quarterback has completed 69 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of the first or second half this season, the second-highest rate in the NFL, giving the Falcons more than one or two highly dramatic wins, in a season that sometimes defied explanations in how the Falcons kept on winning.
While Marshawn Lynch has been the most productive player consistently for Seattle, going for 1590 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns this season, also running for 132 yards in the Wild Card Playoffs win against Washington, Russell Wilson is the real issue that needs to be contained.
The last-standing rookie quarterback is the one that pulls off the surprising plays, big runs and big-time passes in the most crucial moments. Wilson hasn’t thrown an interception against five or more pass rushers since Week 7 against the 49ers and seems to have gotten over his problems on the road. He has been easier to sack in recent weeks, 13 times in his last nine games against added pressure.
The real change has come for the Seahawks since turning more and more to the Shotgun or more accurately the option off the shotgun; 54% of their plays over the last five games coming from those sets. The shotgun rushing game has been bolstered by the option, with the Seahawks averaging 7.8 yards on those rushes.
Predictions – The Falcons haven’t been at their best in the second half of the season, while the Seahawks keep getting better and more resourceful. Trains at full speed are hard to stop.